Make Your Own Delicious Mustard – It’s Easy!
by Cynthia Briscoe
Last night David made the most delicious seitan. Yum. “Let’s have seitan deli sandwiches and soup for dinner!” I exclaimed. And since we both love mustard on seitan sandwiches, I went to fetch a bottle of it. However, when I went to squeeze the mustard bottle, the “plph-fwwt-fwwt-fluppering” sound of not-enough-mustard dashed my sandwich dream. That was until I remembered the big jar of mustard seeds languishing in the spice drawer.
“I’ll surprise David and make some delicious home-made mustard to compliment his tasty seitan,” or so I thought.
“Look before you leap.”
Sometimes I do quite the opposite, especially when blinded by a flash of inspiration. That’s how new recipes are born, right? I’d wanted to try making mustard for a while, and now the perfect opportunity presented itself. I eagerly poured a cup of brown mustard seeds into the Magic Bullet blender.
“Hmm…what kind of vinegar should I add?” I asked myself. “Oh, I know – the persimmon vinegar I made this past fall.” I was sure it would be deliciously tangy and sweet. So, I added enough persimmon vinegar to cover the top of the seeds and began grinding.
Quickly enough the little blender groaned for more liquid, I added the remainder of brown rice vinegar that was in another bottle. Still more liquid was needed, so I added some unfiltered apple cider vinegar, taking care not to let the mother vinegar slip into the blender. I tasted it and added additional water and more sea salt, as it was still pretty thick and pasty.
On the next taste It was horrible, something akin to bitter dirt – nothing like the mustard of my flavorful imagination. With deeply deflated enthusiasm, I shoved the mustard toward the back of the counter, abandoning it to the company of the food processor. I really meant to compost it that night, but with other distractions, I forgot.
Two days later, armed with a rubber spatula, I was ready to feed the failed mustard to the compost. But then, that ever-hopeful little voice told me to give it a farewell taste. Perhaps before it had only been a bad mustard dream. To my surprise, it now tasted like an expensive gourmet mustard – flavorfully pungent, very spicy, and with subtle tangy sweet undertones.
Little did I know just how incredibly easy and foolproof it is to make your own mustard. With only three basic components, the possibilities are endless. There’s not even any cooking involved. Here’s a quick primer for what you need to know about the three main ingredients before launching into your own personal mustard adventure.
The 3 Main Components in Making Mustard
1. Mustard seeds come in two basic varieties: light and dark. The lighter colored seeds, known as yellow or white, are milder tasting like the common yellow mustard. The darker colored seeds, referred to as black or brown, yield a spicier, more pungent and robust mustard. At least some of the seeds of either variety need to be broken or crushed in order to release the pungency.
2. The liquid can be varied but almost always includes some type of vinegar. Fruit or fruit juice, citrus, water, beer or other spirits my be added. Acidity unlocks and activates the spicy volatile chemistry in the mustard seeds. The more acidic the liquid, the slower the heat is unlocked and the longer the heat will stay in the mustard. Acidity sets the spicy flavor and preserves it. If no sour liquid is used, for example, if only water is used, the mustard will lose its potency within a couple of days.
Also the temperature of the water/liquid used effects the flavor. Hot water deactivates the mustard enzymes and heat levels, while cold water keeps the burn intact.
3. Salt balances and enhances the flavor, and when combined with vinegar preserves the mustard for many months refrigerated, if not indefinitely. In fact basic mustard may dry out with age, but does not spoil.
4. Optional additions such as herbs, spices, horseradish, hot peppers, chopped nuts, seeds, or sweeteners may be added for variety. Tumeric is often added to dial up the yellow color. Just add a pinch at a time until you get the desired color. Sweeteners tame the heat and give the mustard a sweet and sour tone.
Basic Proportions for Making Mustard
1 part mustard seeds
2 parts liquid
½ tsp. salt per cup of mustard or to taste
The seeds and liquid parts can be soaked for a couple of days before pureeing or the ingredients may be pureed and let rest for a couple of days.
Start with ½ cup of mustard seeds and you will get about a pint of mustard. It’s fun and so easy to create your own gourmet mustard.
Some Interesting Historical Tidbits about Mustard
Ancient civilizations such as in China, Egypt, India and Mesopotamia used mustard seeds as early as 3,000-4,000 years ago. However, they used the seeds roasted or sautéed whole as a seasoning, not ground into a mustard sauce.
Romans were the first to turn mustard into a sauce, a precursor to what we squeeze out of a bottle today. One 3,000-year-old Roman recipe says to crush the mustard seeds and combine with grape must. Must is the first liquid pressed from grapes before fermenting into wine. This grape juice was cooked and reduced by about three quarters and was commonly used as a sweetener. The Latin name for mustard is “mustrum ardens” which translates to “burning must”.
One of the more curious historical mysteries of mustard lies here in California. In the springtime, fields and orchards, and margins along highways are awash in the intense yellow glow of flowering mustard. It is the black seed mustard variety. Yet mustard is not native to California. So how is it that mustard came to be so prevalent?
Some stories credit Father Junipero Serra for bringing mustard to California. He established the first mission in California in 1769. This was the first of 61 missions built along the 600 mile trail known as the Camino Real or Royal Road. The distance between missions was about 30 miles or a day’s travel by horseback. Purportedly, Father Serra and other Franciscan monks traveling from mission to mission, cast about mustard seeds to mark the trail with mustard plants.
Why mustard and not some other plant? No one knows for sure, because it was not written. Some surmise that perhaps it was the symbolism of the yellow mustard flower itself. Each individual flower has four petals that form the shape of a cross, as do the flowers of all cruciferous plants. Or maybe it was the parable of the mustard seed when Jesus told his followers that if they had as much faith as the size of the small mustard seed, they could easily command the hills to move and they would move. The small mustard seeds have certainly come to command the hills of California. Mustard seed can rest in the ground for 50 years and still remain viable. Or perhaps it was simply sown for the practical value of mustard as food source. The leafy greens and the edible seeds are both nutritious and medicinal.
Regardless of the reason why mustard seeds were cast about, there is proof within the adobe bricks of the missions themselves. The bricks were made from local mud and straw. The earliest bricks show no signs of mustard pollen or seeds, only signs of native indigenous plants. Subsequent later adobe contains mustard signatures within the clay bricks.
ABOUT CYNTHIA VANN: Cynthia is a respected member of the macrobiotic community. She is a dedicated long-time researcher, historian and archivist of macrobiotics. Cynthia attended the levels at the Kushi Institute and is a graduate from Macrobiotics America’s Counselor Training Program. She is currently enrolled in our Macrobiotic Chef Training Program. She is a macrobiotic counselor as well as consultant in iridology and sclerology. Cynthia compiled a 4-booklet series, Best of East West, containing many of the most popular seasonal recipes published in the East West Journal during the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. She is also an avid nature and hiking enthusiast. To contact Cynthia Vann: email@example.com
In Here Comes the Sun, Part 1, we looked at how we are “solar powered.” Humans can’t directly capture the sun’s energy like plants; we are dependent upon the plant world to do that for us. Plants photosynthesize sunlight and store it primarily as carbohydrate. We then ingest plants, and through digestion unlock plant sourced solar energy to fuel our very existence. Sun exposure is a different, yet essential way in which we “ingest” sunlight – not through food consumption and digestion, but through our skin. By exposing our skin to sunlight, we are nourished by transmuting the sun’s energy into Vitamin D. Here in Part 2, I present an interview with Cynthia Vann, who shares her personal experience and long-time research of Vit D.
CB: Cynthia, what first led you to study Vit D?
CV: We were camping and hiking, about 8 miles in. On the last day I was enjoying a beautiful hike up the mountainside when I slipped on some loose shale. Reflexively, I broke the fall with my hand and heard a cracking sound. My companions helped me with the climb back down to camp and put a cast on it. I slept there overnight. The next day, I walked the 8 miles out. The injury was OK as long as I didn’t move it a certain way. After 2 days, I went to the ER and they patched it up. Well, that piqued my curiosity. I hadn’t had any prior breaks for decades, really. I’d recently had a bone density test that came out great. So I was surprised.
Then I went to visit a friend, Mark Sorenson, who owns a spa. He had been studying Vit D quite extensively and had even written a book about it. He was giving lectures on the subject at hisspa. I had never considered Vit D to factor into my bone health and had never had my Vit D levels tested. He suggested that I get tested when I got home.
Also, there was a woman staying at the spa, who had been diagnosed with osteopenia. She had brittle bones and marked depression, as well as other bothersome symptoms. Her Vit D level was at 6 ng/ml and it’s supposed to be at 40. She did a series of supplemental treatments and a sunbathing regime and raised her levels up to 40. Well, I was very impressed and my curiosity drove me to do extensive reading and research.
CB: So, the lady who did the sunbathing, how much of her skin was exposed and how long was her sunbath?
CV: She went out in a bikini. The length of time for sun exposure depends on your skin type. She was fairly light skinned. For pale skin, you don’t have to be out very long, maybe 5 minutes on each side. You don’t want to burn. The danger of sun tanning is not from tanning, it’s from burning. You learn how long you can sunbathe before you start to burn. That’s generally the amount of time it’s safe.
CB: Would you say that when less skin is exposed, you should stay out longer?
CV: No, you can’t make up for skin surface. It’s better to have more skin exposed. However, if you can’t have the skin exposed, by all means, still go out and get some sun.
For babies, Dr. Jym Moon said that the cheeks and the hands are enough for a baby. Just take care not to let the baby’s skin burn.
CB: I remember after my first delivery, the baby was slightly jaundiced. It was winter, and the midwife recommended having the baby lie naked on a blanket by a window with the sun coming through. Is the liver involved in Vit D production or storage?
CV:Yes, organ-wise, the liver is crucial along the pathway of Vit D production as well as the kidneys. Vit D is currently believed to be made by all the cells of the body, and not just bone cells, as previously believed. It’s very beneficial for all the organs. Each cell in our body has a Vit D receptor. Vit D deficiency can harm the DNA function.
CB: In that case, since our body replaces 40-50 billion cells per day, Vit D is consequential for healing and cell regeneration. Simple things like bruises or cuts would take longer to heal if Vit D levels are low.
CV: Bob Pirello, had been macrobiotic for 20 years. He was very athletic, jogging daily. He broke his foot while running a marathon and also discovered that he had lumber fractures. He was very surprised to find that his bones had become very fragile, equivalent to a man in his 80’s. He wrote a book about his recovery titled Beating Osteoporosis Naturally Easily Sensibly.
CB: I recall that after that happening, he and his wife changed their diet from a long-time oil and protein restricted diet. They researched different kinds of oil, such as hemp oil and some other kinds of fat. He began including good quality oil in his diet, consuming more protein, and he fully recovered. What role does fat play in metabolizing Vit D?
CV: Fat is needed to produce and store the Vit D that our body transmutes from sunlight because it is a fat-soluble vitamin. Vit D is actually a hormone. We talk about Vit D like it’s vitamin, but it’s actually a sterol hormone that acts like a vitamin.
CB:Does it matter what kind of oil, whether plant sourced or animal sourced? Often fish oil is recommended. Does it matter?
CV: No, just as long as it’s a fat, our body can use it in conjunction with sun exposure to make and store it’s own Vit D.
CB: It is true that Vit D is almost totally absent from plant sources with the exception of mushrooms exposed to UVB light.
CV: Some amount of Vit D is present in fatty foods of animal origin, such as butter, milk, cheese, fatty fish, liver (Vit D is stored in the liver), and eggs. Even then, the amount of Vit D contained in animal foods is limited and varies depending upon how much exposure to the sun that the animal had.
To get 65 IU’s (International Units) of Vit D, you would need to consume
1 pint non-enriched whole milk
3 TBSP butter
As you can see, you would have to consume an abundance of those foods and also accept the health risks that coincide with consumption of those foods. Because of the scarcity of Vit D in foods, it appears that nature has given us another path to receive Vit D. We can simply expose our skin to the UVB rpays of sunlight and make Vit D for ourselves, independent from animal sources.
The recommended 600 IU level set by the RDA is an artificial level. It’s more like 1500 IU that we need. That’s why exposure to sunlight is so important.
CB: Now that 1500 IU, is that how much you would normally need or is that for someone who is deficient?
CV: That’s how much you would need if you are deficient.
CB: So 600 IU is the standard amount an average person would need per day?
CV: Well, it’s really kind of low. In my earlier research, I found that 800 IU is better. This can vary from person to person. It’s advisable to have a test to assess your own condition. However, receiving Vit D via sun exposure does not pose the risks of Vit D toxicity that can happen when taking Vit D supplements.
CB: Aside from a medical test, are there any markers to indicate that a person is possibly deficient?
CV: Ok. My girlfriend was macrobiotic for 25 years. She recovered from chronic fatigue syndrome by practicing macrobiotics. So she is very grateful to macrobiotics, but she still had this consistent bronchitis every year at the same time.
After studying Vit D, I looked at my friend objectively. I suggested she get tested for Vit D deficiiency. I had seen from researchers that respiratory diseases respond best to sunlight. In fact, before we had antibiotics, sunlight (heliotherapy) was the most common way to treat tuberculosis, asthma and bronchitis. Then when antibiotics came along, sunlight therapy was dropped. This was in the 1920’s.
My friend eventually got tested and her levels were at 15. I told her that number was really low and that she would benefit by increasing her Vit D levels. She decided to do the sunbathing. She did that for a year and got retested and it was over 40. So she was happy to know how much sun exposure she needed to stay healthy. And after 5-6 years, she had no more bouts of bronchitis.
CB:It’s interesting to consider this, because colds, bronchitis and pneumonia tend to occur more in the winter months when there is less sunlight.
So let’s say a person is low in Vit D and they want to expose themselves to the sun, what would you recommend in terms of how much exposure? Is it so much time per day, how many times per week and for what length of time?
CV: As far as frequency of sunbathing, it depends upon individual health needs, geographical location, time of year and age. Plus it depends upon how the person reacts to the sunlight. You want to stop before you get burned. Most people know what their limit is before they get burned. Some people can go all day in the sun and not get burned. And the nice thing to know about sunbathing and Vit D is that, unlike supplementation, you will not overdose on Vit D. When you take the sunlight in through the skin, the body automatically cuts off production with long exposure. That’s also how melanin production, resulting in skin tanning, protects you from taking in too much Vit D.
CB: So you’re also saying that the person’s skin tone and the amount of melanin the person has in their skin, would also factor in as to how much sun exposure an individual needs.
CV: Yes. For example, an African American would need to be in the sun for about 3 hours to make the same amount of VitD as a pale person would in 5 minutes, This is due to the concentration of melanin in the skin. Sunlight does not penetrate darker skin as efficiently as pale skin. A pale person can sit under an umbrella and not even have the sun directly touch them, having only reflected light, and they can make
CB: So say a person is infirm and they are in the house a lot. If they sit by a window, would that be enough to help them improve their Vit D levels?
CV: It should. Say that the window blocks some of the UVB, but if a plant can grow in a window, then you can get enough Vit D, I would think.
CB: A lot of people are afraid of sun exposure. They wear sunblock for fear of skin cancer. What would you suggest? Do you think melanoma is actually related to sun exposure or does it have its roots somewhere else in a person’s health?
CV: There are several studies out on melanoma. One study that interested me was a study of outdoor workers. They discovered that the melanoma rates for the outdoor workers was lower than the rates for the indoor workers. So what sense does that make regarding this sunlight scare?
I think it’s a real problem that people do not understand that it’s not sunlight that causes skin cancer
. It’s the internal quality of your blood that cause skin eruptions to come out. That poor quality blood condition may be hidden until you get a catalyst such as the sun to bring those things out through the skin.
CB: I know that’s true for things like age spots, freckles or those dark splotchy areas on the face or hands. From a macrobiotic perspective, those types of dark splotchy pigmentation come from consumption of sugar, excessive fruit and fruit juice, and lactose or milk sugar.
CV:That’s the “darkening effect” Dr. Lustig talks about. He really dislikes soda pop! It’s just heat and sugar causing the dark spots.
CB: Like baking cookies, huh?
CV: (Laughing) Yes.
CB: I remember as a teenager, I developed a real sensitivity to the sun. If I was out in the sun for a long time, my face and the fleshy web on my hands between the thumb and index finger would swell, become very puffy, red and itchy. I now know that this condition resulted from eating lots of sugar growing up. Every once in a while I come across someone who suffers from that condition and tell them, “Oh, stop the sugar! It will clear up.”
Sugar also plays such a detrimental role in the rise of diabetes. Studies are now indicating that low Vit D also factors into the rising rates of diabetes. Pregnant women with low Vit D levels can develop pre-eclampsia or gestational diabetes. One question doctors often ask pregnant women is if they have head sweating, as head sweating can indicate low levels of Vit D.
We didn’t really talk about depression, and I also wondered if Vit D has any effect on the depression that may coincide with postpartum, menstrual cycles and menopause for women.
CV: In my experience, and of course I discovered Vit D after I was menopausal, I can say that it does help with depression, but overall the things we do with food in Macrobiotics was the most helpful, like cutting out sugar. Sugar is a real disruptor of Vit D storage. We are depleted every time we overload ourselves with extreme yin, including alcohol and caffeine. Over consumption of these extreme foods depletes Vit D, enabling a deficient state. And yes, we may experience depression as well as achiness, muscle weakness and bone deterioration – all symptoms associated with low Vit D levels.
CB: Vit D has a lot to do with how we metabolize calcium. Is that correct?
CV:Yes. If we are Vit D deficient, we are going to have bones at risk of fracture. Metabolized variants of Vit D regulate the absorption of calcium, magnesium and phosphorus needed to mineralize the bones.
CB: As people age, they are increasingly concerned about their bone health. Consequently, they load up on calcium supplements. How do you view that?
CV: Well, that would not be my way of building strong bones. I would tell the person to stop alcohol, sugar, caffeine, and excessive consumption of fruit and fruit juices. Then make sure that their Vit D levels are good and check if they need to be out in the sun more.
CB: That’s good advice. Overloading on calcium, especially with supplements, can lead to hypercalcemia. Excess calcium can harden blood vessels, damage the kidneys and precipitate stone formation.
Are there any at-home tests that you can purchase to check your Vit D levels or do you need to have a blood test done medically?
CV: You don’t need a doctor. You can find out through grassrootshealth.net. They will send you a kit every 6 months as long as you are signed up. It’s $60 per test. That’s roughly what you would pay a doctor with Medicare,
There’s a wide range of opinion by medical doctors regarding the parameters for normal and safe levels of Vit D. We’ve seen a naturopathic doctor who insists that you be at 75. I view 40 as enough. Everyone has their own opinion, and there is really no absolute right number. It also varies among individuals depending upon whether they suffer from low Vit D levels, and whether the deficiency has been prolonged, resulting in negative health issues. In the latter case, you may need 75 levels for a while to ameliorate a deficient condition.
CB: Well, Cynthia Vann, you have certainly simplified much of the confusing and often contradictory advise when it comes to Vit D. Most of us definitely can benefit from more sun exposure than the time spent going to and from our car when shopping. From what you say, it is important to spend a healthy amount of time in the sun. Skin exposure is the surest and safest way to get our Vit D since the quantity of Vit D in food is minimal. You’ve provided some great tips to remove the sun fear factor and make the sun our friend and health ally.
CV: Plants make chlorophyllfrom sunlight. We make Vit Dfrom sunlight. I guess in some sense, you could say Vit D is our “chlorophyll.”
CB: I love that! Well thank you so much, Cynthia, for your time and your studies, and for all the good information that you share. I appreciate your love for learning and research.
It’s hard to believe that less than five centuries ago, people believed that the earth was the center of the solar system. Copernicus’s heliocentric proposal was published in 1543 shortly before his death. His treatise was then somewhat shelved. It took another 100 years to “come to light” when Galileo attempted to build upon Copernican theory. A sun-centered view of God’s creation was such a radical departure from the accepted earth-centered cosmology that the very idea was considered heresy against the Church and Galileo was promptly placed under house arrest.
Scientific understanding of our solar system is still evolving today as well as our view of our place within the cosmology of newly accepted theories. Regardless of human stellar opinion, the sun shines on.
Aveline Kushi once taught us a children’s song called “Amaterasu” which translates, “the Sun is our Mother”. This concept was something I had never really considered in this way. In fact the sun, in my mind, was just there. It came up in the morning and went down at night. For my whole life, I had taken the sun for granted.
From a child’s simple perspective, I recall a visceral and aesthetic moment in the sun. In one instance, I was laying on my back in the cool green grass, looking up at the swaying rhythm of the tree canopy above. The white sunlight dancing in partnership with limbs and leaves, was brilliantly blinding white in contrast to the cool, soft leaf shadows. It caused me to squint and my eyes to tear. I remember sinking into the delicious lullaby of dancing, green-shaded notes contrasting with the staccato of blinding white light.
Squinting through the narrowest of slits, I was fascinated to see a mesmerizing kaleidoscope of rainbow orbs caught within my lashes. I don’t remember how long I stayed in that moment, but the tiny memory stuck with me all these years. Perhaps that was the moment I became so enthralled with color. If there were no sun, there would be no color.
How is it that we can even see colors? The child within me wonders. Could it be because we internalize sunlight or that our biology evolved dependent upon sunlight?
We Are Solar Powered
If you think about it, our very existence is coalescent to the sun. If the sun was removed from the equation of life, there could be no life as we know it.
We literally “eat” sunshine, perhaps not directly as we think of ingesting a meal, but further down the food chain. Unlike plants, we cannot go outside and wave our arms in the air and collect sunlight to fuel ourselves. Fortunately for us, plants can. Through photosynthesis, plants turn sunlight into various forms of carbohydrate, which is the baseline fuel source for humans and animals. Carbohydrates are converted storehouses of sun energy primarily sourced through the vegetable world.
After plants do the work of capturing sunlight and converting it into carbohydrate, we humans are able to recover the sunlight through our process of digestion in order to become useable energy. Our bodies are designed to do so as a perfect compliment to the plant world.
The Sun’s Center within Eastern Cosmology and Healing
Ancient Chinese scholars were astute observers of the natural world. They understood the world to be subject to two opposing, yet complementary forces of energy. These two forces comprising the Whole, followed orderly patterns of change. This concept became known as the Unifying Principle, or the governing laws of Yin and Yang. Yin represents upward expanding energy sourced from the earth’s rotation and magnetic forces, and Yang represents downward contracting energy of forces emitted from heavenly movement, mosy closely from the sun. The mingling of these two forces in various proportions gives rise to all phenomena. Yin/Yang Theory further evolved into The Five Transformations Theory, which is the foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Feng Shui and Martial Arts.
Early roots of the Five Transformations Theory depict the Five Elements representing the four cardinal directions, with the Earth Element placed in the center as a fulcrum and stabilizing force through which all energies transform. Fire and Water form a central axis as Full Yang and Full Yin respectively. Wood (rising, expanding change) and Metal (descending, contracting changes) are transitions between the two extremes.
Truly, a miracle occurs when the two primary energies collide, sparking life. This miracle occurs in the mid region or earth plane of manifested energy depicted as the Earth Element n the Five Transformations Theory.
The human body can be viewed as a miniature version of the larger macrocosm of these two main energies at play: the ascending earthly Chi and the descending heavenly Chi. The center of the torso is where these two forces along the main axis are most equally balanced in proportion.
This is the home of the Five Transformations Earth Element, representing the Stomach and Spleen/Pancreas. It is through this center that we digest our food. Digestion is the portal through which we unlock the solar energy within the food we consume and make that energy available as fuel. This process is referred to as “separating the pure from the impure”. The Stomach “cooks” the food, with digestive acids. The Spleen extracts the “pure” energy essence from the food, in contrast to the “impure” or physical food components. The Pancreas is the “brain” that signals the liver to release glycogen (stored carbohydrate) and determines how much glucose is needed to fuel the cells. You can see that Chinese Medicine views these “organs” more as an energy processesing center rather than the anatomical function of these physical organs in Western Medicine.
Further, a parallel can be drawn between the Earth Element and the solar plexus in the chakra system
. The rainbow colors of the 7 chakras depict the various vibrational waves lengths of pure sunlight. This system, too, acknowledges the sun’s significant central position within the body. The solar plexus, or sun center, represents the union of the pure non-manifest vibration of the heavens with the earthly forces of more dense physical vibration that gives us the gift of life within a physical body.
Briefly, the solar plexis rules:
1) turning food matter into energy through digestion.
2) Digesting thoughts and ideas and transforming those ideas into goals, and goals into action.
3) It represents who we are in this life, our intellectual clarity, and also our will power.
As we enter the summer season of longer days and more direct sunlight in the northern hemisphere, let us celebrate the sun both outside and inside of us for the role it plays in giving us life. When we reside in darker days remember that you are made of sunlight. Remember when you eat the food that sustains you, that you are ingesting the sun’s power. May the power of that gift activate your dreams into reality.
In Part 2 of “Here Comes the Sun”: An informative and clarifying interview with Cynthia Vann regarding a healthy relationship with the sun and Vitamin D production.
Whole Salt or Refined Salt: What’s the difference?
by Cynthia Briscoe
Most Americans unknowingly consume a great deal of poor quality, commercial salt in the form of snack foods, prepared foods, fast foods and restaurant fare. The salt used in these products is highly refined. You can think of it as the white sugar of the salt world. Common refined table salt looks like salt and tastes like salt. However, you are getting much more and much less than you bargain for. Let ‘s look at the difference between commercial refined salt and naturally harvested sea salt.
Common table salt is mined and stripped of its naturally occurring trace minerals, which are then sold separately for profit as supplements. Magnesium is extracted by processing the original salt with caustic soda or lime, fetching a higher price
Other valuable elements in the sea salt are also lost or extracted. Some folks argue that the trace minerals are of such miniscule proportion that they are insignificant to human health. It’s true that we do not need huge amounts of copper, manganese, selenium, boron, etc., but our human biology is evolved to include this subtle but vast array of trace minerals to support cell metabolism. Natural sea salt contains 60 to 90 trace minerals.
After stripping the salt from its naturally occurring minerals, commercial salt is heated at high temperatures and supplemented with iodine and various agents to make it free flowing. The most common free flowing agent is aluminum silicate. Aluminum concentrations have been found in the nerve dendrites of Alzheimer sufferers. Many people avoid aluminum cookware for this reason, but are not aware that they are consuming aluminum everyday in salt.
Remember this cute little girl dressed in yellow, holding an open umbrella over her head? She adorned the carton of Morton’s Salt with the slogan, “When it rains, it pours”. The addition of aluminum silicate to Morton’s salt eliminated those pesky lumps in the saltshaker making it free flowing. Naturally processed sea salt has a softer texture and is hydroscopic, meaning it attracts some moisture from the air, which can form lumps. I would definitely “take my lumps” over “when it rains it pours.”
Perusing salt cartons in the supermarket, I noticed another agent listed on the back of Morton’s Sea Salt and also on Morton’s Kosher salt: yellow sodium prussiate? Hmm, what is sodium prussiate?
Sodium prussiate or sodium ferrocyanide (YPS or E535) is another free-flowing chemical agent industrially produced from hydrogen cyanide. It is added to road salt to keep it from clumping and a stabilizer for the coating on welding rods. In photography it is used for bleaching toning and fixing.
According to the MSDS (Material Data Safety Sheet), it is a hazardous irritant to the skin, eyes and respiratory system. Advised in case of ingestion: Do not induce vomiting. Loosen tight clothing such as the collar, tie, belt or waistband. If the person is not breathing, perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and seek immediate medical attention.
Obviously, the FDA must have approved a certain proportion of these anti-caking agents in food grade salt, but one must question the subtle long-term effects on human health, especially if an individual’s health is compromised. For me, I prefer the inconvenience of a few clumps in my salt box by the stove.
I remember Cornellia Aihara advised folks to choose a clean, white naturally harvested sea salt over colored salts such as the gray or pink salt. She said the colored salts were too yang or contracting for humans: that these salts were OK for pickling or for animals. She never fully explained why. I questioned whether this was a “Cornellia-ism” or simply because she exalted Mr. Muramoto and the salt he produced. I know many camps highly promote the gray Celtic Sea Salt.
So I called David Jackson, who processes and provides the brand, SI salt, available through Goldmine Natural Foods and is sold at various natural foods stores. His opinion agreed with Cornellia’s that the colored salts are more yang than the cleaner white salts and that he had observed that consumption of the colored salts over time produced some pretty yang folks. From a macrobiotic perspective (big view) perhaps the more mineral rich impurities in colored salt may benefit those whose condition is more yin or needing more minerals, perhaps for certain lengths of time.
So use your informed judgment and select a quality, naturally harvested salt that appeals to your personal needs and biology. Number 1, choose a salt produced by natural elements of clean water, wind, sun and earth with minimal processing. Number 2, choose a salt free from chemical additives.
What About Places Without Whole Grains?
by David Briscoe
In certain areas of the world there is no longer whole grain agriculture, and no modern tradition for using whole grains. And in some areas of the world people have never used whole grains. If macrobiotics encourages the use of whole grains as the principle food, what can people in these areas do? Yes, they can try to import whole grains, and yes, they could attempt to start whole grain farming in their area. But what has the actual tradition been? What helped traditional people stay healthy in these areas of the world, for generations, without whole grains? In two words: complex carbohydrate. To be more specific: complex carbohydrate with intact fiber.
“Intact fiber” is the key to healthy carbohydrate use. For example, white rice is primarily starch, and it is often surprising for many to learn that this is in fact a complex carbohydrate, but white rice has had its fiber removed in the refining process
Fiber allows for carbohydrate to be properly digested and more gradually converted to glucose before being absorbed and used as blood sugar. Complex carbohydrate foods taken with fiber intact have be proven to prevent diabetes, high cholesterol, and numerous digestive and colon problems. The healthiest carbohydrate is complex carbohydrate that comes in food with its fiber intact. Whole grains are one such food, but there are others.
At the bottom of my macrobiotic food pyramid, I used to write “Whole Grain,” but I began to realize that was too limited. Now I write, “Foods containing complex carbohydrate and intact fiber.” This makes it possible for people in every part of the world to apply macrobiotic principles based on their locally available and traditional foods. Placing complex carbohydrate foods with intact fiber at the foundation of daily eating is the healthiest choice and individual and society at large can make, in my opinion.
I was surprised to discover that Africa has had a tradition of whole grain as a principle food for thousands of years. This still exists in some isolated areas, and there are whole grains used that we have never heard of in the West. Some of these are pearl millet, fero. kam-kam, and African rice. Very unfortunately, colonization over the centuries has drastically diminished the growing of these whole grains, but there is a now a movement afoot to help restore the growing and consumption of traditional African whole grains.
Traditional people in many tropical areas have relied on tubers for their complex fiber-rich carbohydrate. Some of these we know about, but there are many we in temperate climates have never heard of. These include taro, manioc, cassava, and yam.
Today there are various movements around the world actively teaching local people about the importance of restoring the dietary traditions of their ancestors by returning to using complex carbohydrate foods with intact fiber as the foundation food for daily eating. Without realizing it, they are teaching one of the basic macrobiotic principles of healthy eating for human beings. This is very good news!
Some popular writers today advise the avoidance of complex carbohydrates, including whole grains, and they advocate the use of vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts in their place. This won’t be possible for the entire world, or even all that healthy. The world’s population cannot be sustained on vegetables and fruits, or seeds and nuts. These are already very expensive, difficult to produce, require toxic agricultural chemicals to grow on a massive scale, and are wasteful of natural resources in their requirements for storage and transportation. Besides, the land simply isn’t there for this to be a possibility.
Some write that there is no proven need for the human body to have complex carbohydrates such as whole grains as a source of nourishment. This is a misleading and myopic view, in my opinion. And it flies in the face of 50 years of scientific research supporting the multi-faceted benefits of complex carbohydrates and whole grains for our health. More than that, though, it dismisses our human dietary tradition of thousands of years.
For the future, whole grain production and consumption will be the dietary savior of humanity and the earth. In those areas of the world where whole grain production may not be possible, as discussed previously, a return to the use of local and traditional foods that contain complex carbohydrate and intact fiber will be the essential dietary foundation. This has been our human dietary tradition for thousands of years, and so it must continue to be if thousands of years forward are to be possible.
Fearless Use of Salt In Cooking by Cynthia Briscoe
Salt is a critical element in the alchemy of your cooking. Good use of salt in cooking prepares the food you eat to be aligned with human digestion and human blood quality, and thus is an important factor regarding your health. How you use salt in cooking is especially important in a plant-based diet, because when applied properly, it gives vegetable quality food a strengthening vitality or good quality yang energy.
There is a lot of fear surrounding the use of salt. There are opposing viewpoints. In this series, I would like to present some tips and understanding about the use of salt, such that you can decide for yourself what is personally appropriate for your health. As David Briscoe often advises students, “Go from the land of ‘No’ to the land of ‘Know’”. I might add in behalf of all Kitchen Commandos, “Move from ‘Fear’ to ‘Fearless’’. The first point in this series, concerns giving sea salt ample time to cook with the food.
In her cooking classes, Cornellia Aihara taught students the importance of cooking the salt into the food. In most instances of cooking with sea salt, she recommended cooking the salt in the food for 15 to 20 minutes. Following is a teaching story she shared:
George Ohsawa once gave me only 20 minutes notice that he would be coming to visit. It was lunchtime, so I thought to make polenta, as it is quick to cook. In my haste, I forgot to add the salt in the beginning of cooking the polenta. I didn’t realize I had forgotten to add the salt until I tasted it. The polenta tasted very bland, so I stirred in salt after it had finished cooking.
Mr. Ohsawa ate his lunch.
Cornellia loved Ohsawa very much. It was important to her that he enjoyed his lunch. So she asked him in her Cornellia way, “You enjoy?”
When telling the story, Cornellia imitated his voice by speaking in a low, slow voice with deep intonation, “Yes. I enjoy very much. Thank you. But you add salt too late.”
Well, you might scratch your head and ask, “Really? How could Ohsawa tell that she had added the salt after the polenta had cooked?” You can distinguish, too, once you understand the difference of raw salt versus cooked salt.
First of all, raw salt has a different taste and texture on the tongue. If you look at magnified grains of salt, you will see little cube shapes with sharp edges and corners. That’s the natural structure of how the sodium and chlorine molecules adhere to one another. This structure dissolves with water. So if Cornellia had added the salt as the water was coming to a boil, the salt crystals would have dissolved and combined very nicely with the polenta. Raw salt crystals have a strong, sharp salty blast of flavor on the tongue, almost a slight initial burning sensation. If the salt has been cooked into the food, it subtly combines with the flavors and has a different slightly sweet flavor.
Also, perhaps George was very thirsty after eating lunch; another sign of uncooked salt. Raw salt makes you very thirsty. After a meal where the salt is balanced by cooking, a single cup of tea is usually enough to satisfy thirst. That’s why fast-food meal menus such as a burger and salted fries often include a ‘Big Gulp’ of a drink.
I have experienced this kind of extreme thirst after eating refried beans in a Mexican restaurant. If you cook dried beans with salt in the water, the beans stay hard. So the restaurant cooks a large pot of dried beans without salt, drains off the liquid and mashes the beans. Then salt is added to the mashed beans for flavor. The effect is much like the polenta: the mashed beans are thick and lack enough water to dissolve the salt. Thus you are eating a lot of raw salt housed within the refried beans. The next day, you may have lower back pain in the area of the kidneys and experience some puffiness or swelling. You also might experience tight shoulders or irritability.
Just hold this salt tip in mind and test it for yourself, in your own cooking or when you eat out in a restaurant. Experience and awareness are the best teachers.
How much salt is appropriate for me?
Follow your taste buds. The amount of salt you use should bring out a delicious naturally sweet flavor. The salty taste should be soft and not sharp. When planning a meal, vary the salt content in different dishes
Enough to bring out a sweet flavor.
Na/K – Dr. Ishizuka Was Onto Something, Part 1
by David Briscoe
Ever since coming across the first mention of Dr. Ishizuka’s sodium and potassium (Na/K from now on) theory over 40 years ago, I have been on a mission to find out more. George Ohsawa based his macrobiotic theory on Ishizuka’s teachings. It was Ishizuka’s books on Na/K applied to food and health that first caught Ohsawa’s attention, and by following these teachings he was able to recover from serious illness. Over time, Ohsawa created his yin-yang interpretation of Ishizuka’s theory, and macrobiotics was born. In the process, unfortunately in my opinion, Ishizuka’s original Na/K theory faded from view.
Regretfully, I don’t read Japanese, so I have never been able to explore any of Ishizuka’s original writings. My search to understand Na/K and its relationship to food and health began, in its early days, by spending endless hours combing through dense scientific tomes and researching medical journals in university libraries. Most of it I couldn’t comprehend as I am not a trained scientist or physiologist, but I persisted. With persistent research discovering new bits of information, the pieces of the puzzle filled in to form a more comprehensive picture. Here’s my interpretation of Dr
I. Ishizuka’s theory in a nutshell:
For an example of a food, let’s look at a banana. It’s Na/K ratio is 380:1. From Ishizuka’s viewpoint, banana, though it can certainly be enjoyed as a treat now and then, would not make a good primary and daily food for human consumption because its Na/K is way high in K. An opposite example is bacon. Bacon is extremely high in Na and low in K.
George Ohsawa categorized foods that are high in Na and low in K as “yang.” Foods that were high in K and low in Na he categorized as “yin.” There are other factors that can be used to determine the yang or yin of food, but Na/K ratio was a significant determining factor in Ohsawa’s view. Ishizuka’s theory offers us another tool for determining how to appreciate a food, not just for taste and satisfying hunger, but for healing as well.
Outward Impatience & Internal Digestion
by David Briscoe
“If you have no patience, you’ll become a patient.” – Herman Aihara
You’ve probably noticed: it’s become a very impatient world. Individually and collectively, patience seems to be fading. On the road, in traffic, in stores, in relationships, in politics, international relations, finances, waiting in line, fast food, fast medicine, etc., lack of patience is expressed in many ways. There can be many explanations and opinions as to why this is so.
I’d like to present one that is not commonly considered, if at all: we’ve become impatient at the physiological level; and very specifically we’ve become digestively impatient. The human digestive system has a very natural and gradual way for food to be digested, before it is absorbed into the blood and then assimilated by our cells. Let’s look at carbohydrate, for example. The way the body works is that carbohydrate digestion is supposed to begin in the mouth; that is, when the carbohydrate we are eating is the complex kind, polysaccharide. Complex carbohydrate is meant to be chewed, mixed with saliva, and through the action of the enzyme, salivary amylase, begins to be broken down to disaccharide, a simpler form of carbohydrate.
If you’ve ever chewed brown rice really well, you noticed that it starts to taste sweet. You are tasting the complex carbohydrate in the brown rice being slowly converted to simpler carbohydrate, preparing it for the next stage of digestion. The body is smart. It likes to digest slowly and patiently. Next, the complex carbohydrate that has been chewed is swallowed and goes down to the stomach. No further digestion of the carbohydrate takes place in the stomach due to stomach acid that stops the action of the salivary amylase. The chewed carbohydrate moves from the stomach to the duodenum, the passageway between the stomach and small intestine, where is stimulates the secretion of pancreatic amylase from the pancreas, further breaking down the complex carbohydrate that wasn’t broken down through chewing. This disaccharide now enters the small intestine where the enzymes lactase, sucrase and maltase, break it down into monosaccharide, single sugars, that can then be absorbed through the small intestine and released into the blood.
This is a gradual and natural process, relying on digestive patience. It’s how the body wants to digest carbohydrate, if given the chance to do it right. In today’s world the carbohydrate most widely consumed is not complex carbohydrate.
It is chemically processed simple-sugar carbohydrate such as white sugar, candy, high fructose corn syrup, and dextrose. Even many so-called natural sweeteners like agave syrup, maple syrup, coconut sugar, evaporated cane juice, and others, are highly processed into simpler and concentrated sugars. And honey, long-considered by many to be the favored natural sweetener, is 100% simple sugar, pre-digested by the bees. All simple sugar bypasses the body’s need for natural and gradual complex carbohydrate digestion, since it has already been reduced to its simplest form. It travels quickly through to be released into the bloodstream. This impatient, hurry-up digestion has become the norm, and over decades of modern eating, the body has become habituated to it, though it doesn’t respond well to it. It is well-known that many physical and mental health problems today have their roots in the over-consumption of simple sugar.
One argument to this idea of “patient digestion” is that all sugar eventually ends up in the small intestine as simple sugar prior to absorption into the blood, and therefore it doesn’t matter if it started out as complex carbohydrate or manufactured simple sugar. But it’s the rapidity and the quantity of delivery of simple sugar to the blood that is the difference between consuming complex carbohydrate and processed simple sugar. And I would further clarify this by emphasizing “complex carbohydrate with its natural fiber intact,” such as whole grains, fresh vegetables, and beans, as the healthiest carbohydrate to for digestive patience and overall health. Also, when the simple sugar, fruit sugar or fructose, is consumed I suggest eating the whole fruit, with its fiber, rather than in the form of juices, concentrates, flavorings, syrups and powders. Fiber in food has long been proven to support natural digestive function (digestive patience).
There is a saying, “Biology precedes psychology.” I would adapt it and say, “Physiology precedes psychology.” If we hurry up our digestive physiology, demanding that it work faster through the consumption of simple sugar of various kinds, we will see a reflection of that outward in all kinds of expressions of impatience. Outward behavior is influenced by what’s happening inwardly at the physiological level. The two cannot be separated.
Inevitably, all of the body’s internal organs are made to work harder by the modern diet of excess protein, fat and sugar, ultimately causing over-stimualtion of the metabolism and nervous system, giving further rise to personal and social impatience. Re-estalishing inward physiological and digestive patience, eating in a way that supports the body’s natural stability, we see outward patience being restored over time.
© 2016 David Briscoe
Yin-Yang & Truth
by Cynthia Briscoe
When people first begin to study macrobiotic principles, they often get frustrated trying to pin down yin and yang. There are columns and lists of yin and yang to be memorized, but the lists are shifty as items may change columns relative to what is being compared to. Why? Because yin and yang are not ‘things’. Yin and yang in actuality are more verb-like, describing the active, relative movement of energy. In macrobiotics, we use the terms yin and yang as a relative means to describe states of energy in its movement from an expanded state of vibration to more dense state of materialization with relationship to time.
Movement is the natural state of energy. Life is energy and we are made up of energy. Our lives express the undulation of energy between these two polarities. In our traverse between opposites, we cross that middle point of balance and that fleeting moment is the moment of truth: who we really are when the relative world is stripped away. It’s the eye of the hurricane, the stillness in the midst of the change swirling around us.
So what is truth? I think of it as that center core within us that rings the bell of peace independent of the swirling relativity around us. It’s our core, our home base. Perhaps truth lives in the center of the spiral in our DNA that we share collectively as human beings regardless of race or religion or nationality and individually as a singular unique expression of energy. As we traverse between polarities and cross that sweet spot, we take a snapshot to hold in our soul memory. We hold it up to the light in times of darkness to remind ourselves of who we truly are and what we came to experience in this relative world.
In macrobiotic practice, we try to move the edges of polarity closer to home center
. Then as we oscillate between the poles of vibration, we cross that peaceful point more frequently and perhaps we are able to linger there just a moment longer. Macrobiotics considers the energy nature of everything and how the movement of that energy takes form in our health and conscious awareness.
In the book Food for Thought by Saul Miller, he popularized the simple visual of the yin/yang teeter-totter seen in the version below.
On the yang or contractive end of the food spectrum are condensed energy expressions such as meat, chicken, hard cheese and eggs. It takes about 16 lbs. of plant food to produce a pound of beef and 10 pounds of milk to produce a pound of cheese. On the yin or expansive end of the food spectrum are foods that express concentrations of that energy. For example, it takes 3 feet of sugar cane to make one teaspoon of sugar. When the extremes on both ends are reduced or eliminated, the pendulous swing between opposites becomes less extreme biologically, hormonally, emotionally and mentally. Eliminating the extreme yin and yang foods from the teeter-totter of our diet translates into less extremes of energy expression within our bodies, biologically and emotionally. In our lives, even though there may be the extremes of expressed energy chaotic and swirling around us, we are better able to maintain our stability and peace and to respond with stable and peaceful action.
Olive Making (Salt Cured)
by Cynthia Briscoe
Oroville, CA, where I live, claims fame as the home of the canned olive. When a woman named Mrs. Ehmann found herself widowed and penniless, she got busy and invented the canned olive, today commonly fitted as a joke by kids over their digits at the holiday table. The Mediterranean climate here in Oroville is perfectly suited to the growth of this illustrious fruit. There is even a town named Palermo nearby since it reminded the settlers of the Italian town.
Olive trees abound here, as well as abandoned orchards that gradually succumb to housing projects and apartment complexes. Some survive the dozer and provide landscaping shade in schoolyards, parks, and around homes, as they require no water during the blazing hot summers. For most folks today, the fruits are a nuisance, staining their patios and sidewalks, but for me, they are a glorious treasure longing to be acknowledged and touched by human hands.
The late fall and winter months provide an abundance of ripe olives. The colors are a rich and vibrant deep purple, almost black. There may be a few in the mix that are maroon in color. Throw in a few olive leaves and the palette of color will make your heart sing. Combine the olive picking with a picnic, children, grandchildren or a dear companion, and the flavor of your home cured olives will be even more delicious.
Salt cured olives are so incredibly simple to make that it causes one to wonder why more people don’t, especially when you view the price tag on naturally cured olives. Perhaps folks just accept Mrs. Ehmann’s version of the dark, canned olive as the only way to have an olive. Probably they have not yet tasted the rich, robust, complex flavor of salt cured olives, or experienced the contrast of cool earth seeping through the soles of your shoes, balanced by the warm sun knitting rays into the back of your sweater…or a blue sky floating cloud patterns above your head whenever you look up to reach a higher branch heavy with olives. Mix that with the sounds of children, flushing wings, birdsong and the rubbery firm sound of olives bouncing into a bucket after picking: authentically life-delicious!
Recipe for Salt Cured Black Olives
2 parts olives
1 part salt
–Pick ripe olives from the tree. Resist the temptation to collect fallen olives from the ground as those are more susceptible to spoilage.
–Sort through the olives and pick out any remaining stems and discard any olives that show signs of insect wounding.
–Weigh the olives and write down the weight.
-Take a small sharp knife and cut a slit in each olive. Place them in a bowl large enough for washing the olives. (The slit helps to leech the bitterness from the olives.)
-Cover the olives with water. Pour off any floating debris, rinse again and drain.
–Weigh out the salt. You need an amount of salt that is ½ the weight of the olives. If you are doing a small amount of olives, it may be affordable to use your expensive natural sea salt. If processing a larger volume of olives, use pickling salt that has no additives or you can use inexpensive rock salt (we use this for salt baths). This unprocessed solar dried salt can be purchased at home improvement stores for $5-$6 per 35 lb. bag. You can use it in the rock form, but I like to put in in the blender and grind it up as it dissolves better during pickling.
–Mix the olives and salt together.
– Slip the olives into a cotton bag or old pillowcase.
– Tie off the bag and hang either outside or inside. I have some hooks in the ceiling of my front porch or you can hang them inside a garage or other protected area. Keep in mind that the salt will pull dark liquid from the olives that can stain cement or walls. Be sure to put a bucket beneath the olives to catch this liquid. If you should hang the bag from a tree, keep in mind that the dark liquid is also very salty, which will kill plants. Some people say rain does not harm the olives, but if I hang them outside exposed to the elements, I make a rain jacket for them by cutting a corner from a plastic bag and slipping the rope through this small hole.
–Cure for 4 to 6 weeks. Once or twice per week, mix the olives. Simply lift up on the bottom of the bag and gently mix by rolling the olives around inside the bag. After a month or so, taste the olives
When the flavor is to your liking, the olives are done. These olives will naturally have more of a bitter flavor, but the bitterness lessens with curing time.
–Remove the olives from the bag and quickly rinse off excess salt. Drain well. Perhaps spreading out in a single layer may be a good idea if you are storing them long term.
-These olives are delicious to me just like this, but usually I dress them with herbs and olive oil, and store them in jars in a cool place for 3-6 months. They will keep a year or longer in the fridge.
– To dress the olives toss with enough organic olive oil to coat them. Fresh or dried herbs may be added such as rosemary, thyme, or oregano. I found that fresh garlic tends to grow mold, so if you like garlic add it to a smaller amount of olives and store in the refrigerator.